McCormack DNA-125/225 Upgrades

There has been much written here regarding the fabulous results of Steve McCormack's personal mods to the older DNA amplifier series (0.5, 1, and 2). Many of you know that I have been waiting for mods to become available to the newer DNA series (125/225). They are now available and I have mine scheduled to go in January (yes, there is a relatively significant backlog at this time). Steve is planning Gold and Platinum level upgrades, as opposed the the B, A, and A-gold, as in the past. These sound like very exciting mods and, if you are interested, call Steve for details.

Just a heads up to those who had wondered when these mods would be offered. By all accounts these mods are outstanding and will bring the 125 or 225 to the level of THE finest amps available.

I have nothing to do with SMCAudio, just a happy user of McCormack.

Will the upgrades to the DNA-125 and DNA-225 will put them in the new Mccormack DNA-500 amp territory sonically?

Thnx for the post. As a new owner of the 125 it is something I look forward to. Question, what preamp, if any, do you use?

Matty, I have used passive and active preamps. I had good luck with a Bent but passed it along for other reasons. I am currently using a Herron VTSP-1A linestage in which Keith Herron installed a new 166-step volume control (which are now standard). OUTSTANDING. As you may now, gain control is a must with the high output of the McCormacks.

DL, I expect from conversations I have had with Steve McCormack and others that the Platinum revisions to the DNA-225 will result in an amp that will be the sonic equal of most any amp upwards of $15K. Gold revisions in the neighborhood of $1400, Platinum (including Plitron transformer and fully balanced inputs) about $2300. Call Steve for details and full text descriptions are to be on the website soon.
Daltonlanny, I think the DNA 125-225 Revisions will not take into the territory of the DNA 500, it will be a totally different amp. Remember that the DNA 125, 225 and 500 were built to meet a price point and the standards of the factory. The 125, 225 and 500 amps differ only in power output rating. I am sure that the Mods will actually tailor and clean up the sound of these already well tested amps. If you notice the price of the mods, the Platinum, I am sure for the 225 model go for $2400....that is as close as the full retail price of the amp itself....if you calculate the mark up of the factory, you can say that in reality you are getting an amp with at most $1000 parts on it, but for $2400 of modifications, I bet that the labor would be close to maybe, I am estimating about $75 hoursx10=$750...and the rest, parts=1650 in parts. An amp with $1000 worth in parts+$1650 more in parts would be in reality $2650Xretail markup= 6-7K. This is a wild guess, I am sure that the CJ factory actually spends less on each amp. According to someone in the this thread, he said that SMc stated that the amp with the Platinum upgrade can go against amps that retail for 15k....I am not to doubt that. If his designs were put into production, are attractively priced, because the DNA amps are very well priced in comparison to other brands and still are able to produce flooring reviews from magazines and audiophiles, as well as to work out in the calculation of the company ambitions, I would not that that Smc can pull a near miracle with $2400 of your hard earned dollars. This is my take on this. I will have to begin scrounging money for the upgrade.

Reading this thread, and particularly Paul's post, made me think about what you are really getting for your money with these upgrades. I owned the DNA2 and seriously considered having it upgraded by SMc. My conversations with the folks at SMc showed them to be dedicated, professional and very helpful. However, as I researched it, my decision was that for the cost of the upgrades, one could buy a sonically equivalent or superior new (or used) amp. I am sure the 125,225 and 500 are nice amps, but I belive a significant amount of the upgrade cost through SMc must be labor, since that is their main source of revenue. Therefore, wouldn't it be better if McCormack made a "Signature" series of these amps, which incorporates the upgrades and takes advantage of the lower cost of line-based assembly, rather than for consumers to have to pay SMc to both take apart the factory installed components then install the upgrades, just to get the desired performance. On the flip-side would be the low cost production of the Parasound JC-1 Halo, in which all the concievable modifications are incorporated into the design, and the assembly is performed in as low-cost a manner as possible (overseas). I am not advocating overseas production (in fact all of my components are American made), and I am not saying the Halo is a better amp than a modified McCormack, but simply pointing out the different production philosophies and the potentially high proportion of labor cost to sonic benefit of the upgrades associated with these McCormack amps.
I would love to hear a modded DNA amp vs. the JC-1. What a great test that would be - for me. Here's why.

I have a DNA.5 Deluxe that I self-modded to near revA status. I had lots of help from both Bob Crump (who voiced the JC-1) and Steve McCormack himself, on parts selection and other options that I could carry out myself without serious circuit redesign. Yes, this DIY approach saved me big time $ over Steve's mods, and was really the only way I could afford to upgrade my amp. I was also able to implement the cap bypass design that Bob used in the JC-1 with excellent results.

The McCormack amps are a gem by themselves, with the mods they are truly in a different league. How much better can it get?

Having read the various posts here, I felt I should weigh-in with a few comments of my own. First of all, the whole point of McCormack Audio is performance *value,* while my personal goals with SMc Audio are oriented more toward absolute performance, with somewhat less regard for cost ;-) If McCormack Audio were to implement the sort of things I am doing in my upgrades, the products would be entirely different, and several times more expensive.

As a designer and audiophile, SMc Audio is an important outlet for me because it allows me to pursue my dreams and create product solutions that are purely performance driven. It’s a lot of fun, I get to express my audio creativity in some very cool products, and I get to deal with you folks directly, which I also enjoy.

To say that this is a subjective business is something of an understatement. There is no “best amplifier” that everyone will agree on, but I think it is important to understand that my Revision A upgrades and the new Platinum and Gold Edition amplifiers will get you into “the best” territory for a lot less money than you might spend otherwise. It may seem odd to invest as much (or more) in an upgrade as the amp cost originally, but that is what it takes to deliver the best combination of parts, attention to detail, and hand craftsmanship I have to offer. And for those who are fundamentally happy with these amps to begin with, this may truly be the best and most cost-effective path to state-of-the-art performance.

Finally, please understand that hearing the stock McCormack amps really doesn’t prepare you for what the fully upgraded versions are capable of. You have no idea how many times I have heard the phrase, “How much better can it get?” only to hear the same person ultimately reply, “Wow! I had no idea you could make *that* kind of improvement!”

Thanks to all for your interest, and please contact me if you have questions.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
I think the upgrades provided by SMc Audio to my DNA-2 Deluxe are an incredible value.
There is more to it than just a parts and labor ratio. With the more extensive upgrades, you are essentially getting a new amplifier along with a new warranty. If you have a problem or question, the designer and technician are a phone call away. There are many factors besides the huge perfomance and sound quality benefits.

The stock DNA-2 Deluxe was a very good amp, powerful and musical. With the Gold revision and input transformers, it has exceeded my initial expectations and my appreciation for the quality continues to grow. There is no pondering the parts vs. labor ratio here.

There are a few new amps that have become available since I decided to have mine upgraded and most have magazine reviews that wax poetic how wonderful they are. It is not possible for most of us to audition all the choices, so our "research" is often based on the feedback from others.
To my knowledge, there are no magazine reviews of the McCormack revision amps, but a long list of feedback from satisfied customers. I consider this type of endorsement more credible than most magazine reviews.
I have the first DNA-225 amp upgraded by SMc (upgraded this summer) and have about 400 hours of listening time on it to date. Steve, if you are tracking this thread, I was going to email you, as you requested, with a "review" of the modification, but perhaps this posting will be an acceptable alternative. Actually, I was going to post a review on Audiogon, but haven't had the time to post the kind of review I'd like to do.
Before I describe my listening experience I'll list the rest of my system: Vandersteen Model 5's (new as of 10/3/03), ARC SP-9 MKIII, MF Tri-Vista (new as of 10/3/03), Linn LP12/Lingo/Ekos/Cirkus with Dynavector 20x cartridge, Harmonic Technology Pro Silway MkIII ic's, OCOS speaker cable, Audience Power Chord for amp, JPS Labs Digital PC for Tri-Vista, everything plugged into Hubbell 5620 cryo'd outlets on dedicated lines. I also listened to the amp with Avalon Acoustic Avatars and did extensive comparison listening with an ARC VT100 MkIII.
Steve's transformation of the DNA-225 is absolutely stunning. The unmodified amp has been acknowledged by both TAS and Stereophile as one of the best amps around, but the modified amp is leagues better than the stock unit. These are the adjectives that come immediately to mind to describe the sound: gorgeous, vivid, detailed (but not etched or bright), revealing, full bodied (but not loose or fat), with a soudstage that is wide, deep and detailed to the corners. Almost like a stage that has sunlight evenly illuminating the entire surface. The "threadbare" quality of the midrange mentioned in the reviews of the stock unit has been replaced with a vibrancy a, I want to say "lushness" but that isn't the right word, that is very seductive. After listening to the ARC tube amp and then going back to the McCormack, both I and my audiophile friends much prefered the McCormack's quiet background, high resolution, and faithful rendering of the musical textures. There is a 3-D quality to voices and instuments that you hear only on the very best equipment. It has this "rightness" of reproduction that allows you to hear music with which you are very familiar as though for the first time. And it does this whether you are listening to Art Pepper, Heifetz, or Lonnie Brooks. Remarkable.
I really believed I was going to like the VT100 better with the Vandy's, but it wasn't even close. On classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass, voice, instrumental, small scale, large scale, you-name-it, the McCormack was preferred by us all. Even the ARC dealer had to reluctantly admit that he was shocked at how good the modified DNA-225 sounded (first time he had heard the amp was when he came to make final adjustments to the Vandy's.
While the beautiful synergy between this amp and the Model 5's is well known to Audiogoners, the dramatic improvement wrought by Steve's modification were obvious with the Avatars as well. I should also mention that Steve is a delight to do business with and is very responsive and generous with his time. I wish more people in the industry shared his commitment to the customer as well as to excellence of product.
Well, this "review" was not the paragon of audio journalism I had envisioned, but you get the point--if you have a DNA-225, you owe it to your ears to get Steve to modify it. I haven't heard anything, SS or tube, for under $15k as satisfying. An unqualified triumph.
Bruce 1s experience and comments does not surprise me in the least. I am using 2 0.5 Rev A+ to vertically biamp Vandersteen 3Asigs and they are outstanding. Transparent, detailed, musical great bass, shimmery highs, etc. And Steve and Chris are very good to work with in terms of helping you select the right mod for your rig. Highly recommended.
Bruce, your review confirms what I have heard elsewhere and makes me thankful that I have reserved my position in the revision schedule. Glad to hear that you find the Audience PC a good match because it, too, is what I am using. I am currently using Vandy 3a Sigs like the Swampwalker and would love to have your Vandy 5's. Most of all, I am hoping to be able to post as glowing a review within the next few months! :-)
I have no doubt that your experience will be similar to mine. You've got something very special in store! The modified DNA-225 matches beautifully with the Vandersteens, and the Audience PC matches great with the amp. Happy listening!
Steve McCormack is a true professional, and a kind person.He has my utmost respect and admiration.He took time out ofhis busy schedule and sent me 4 e-mails about questions I had! I sure wish all manufactures of audio gear were as helpful, kind, and caring as Steve!
Wow, you guys who have had the upgrades, and especially Bruce's review are very convincing! To be clear, my post above was in no way meant to disparage what the good folks at SMc are doing or the quality of the products. My point was that they have to basically dismantle a production built amp and rebuild it to achieve the level of performance you guys are talking about. However, after reading your posts, maybe that is not the point at all, rather it is about a guy doing what he loves to do while making some of the best available stereo products and working daily with people who appreciate his ideas and efforts. We should all have such dream jobs! It is obvious he is committed to the satisfaction of his customers. My regret now is not ever having heard the revision A version of my DNA2, maybe I should have chosen to go ahead with the upgrade.
Bruce's review is just what I was referring to about credible posts from satisfied customers. Very articulate and descriptive. A single good review like that is very helpful to anyone who is trying to find their way through the maze of audio gear. Good job Bruce!

Mitch, we all have to try to place a comparative value on our purchases. You do have a good point regarding the additional labor of disassembly. For that reason, plus the additional cost of double shipping, I urge people who send in for upgrades to have as much done as possible the first time they send in a component rather than plan to upgrade in stages. The Siltech carbon wire, which was not available at the time of my upgrade, is one good example how you will save money. Be sure to read about it and you will see what I mean.
Posters here may get an ironic smile out of my last post on this other thread (1/30/04).
Zaik's - if that's a stock DNA 125 that you've got ... and you like it as much in a week as you do now ... then I believe you might seriously consider Steve's mods as a viable alternative to updating your other reference amp. There's noting subtle about the improvements wrought by Steve's mods. Just when you start asking "Could it get any better than this" ... it does.

Correct me if I am wrong, Steve, but the reference above that the DNA-125, DNA-225, and DNA-500 "differ only in power output rating" is incorrect, is it not? I was under the impression that only the DNA-500 was the full balanced, push/pull differential drive design. Am I right? If so, this would yield sonic differences above and beyond mere power output differneces, I would tend to think.

Tom, I'm awaiting the delivery of my DNA-500 and you are absolutely correct. When I asked Steve McCormack about any DNA-HT5 upgrades (I owned one) and whether it would then be on par with the 500, he kindly replied that there was nothing that he could do to the HT5 to make it sonically on par with the 500. As you said, it is a totally balanced push/pull design. Additionally, Steve wasn't under as much budget constraints regarding this ststement product.


A recent experience to supplement previous posts on this topic: I wanted to audition a $2k MC cartridge so I took my DNA 225 SMc modified amp with me to the dealer to use with the dealer's speakers, of the same brand and model as my own. The other equipment was similar to my own, so it made for a good test of the cartridge's sound as I would experience it at home. We plugged in the DNA225 to warm up for 40min. or so and listened to the dealer's $6k well known brand tube amp in the interim. When we hooked up the DNA225 the dealer was shocked to discover that the DNA225 sounded better in every way than his amp. He even told another customer to come listen! Ptmconsulting is correct--there is nothing subtle about the improvements Steve's mods make to the sound of the DNA.